Sevalanka Foundation Chairman's Message 2005
In traditional Sri Lankan villages, community members would come together at the beginning of every cultivation season to share experiences and make decisions. They would gather in a Buddhist temple or Hindu kovil or meet in the shade of a large tree to discuss the merits of different crop varieties and combinations, compare notes on the environmental signs that predicted rainfall, evaluate the decisions from the last season, and develop a plan for the next. This process of sharing and reflection enabled our ancestors to learn from their mistakes, adapt to change, respond to local conditions, and sustain their way of life over hundreds of generations.
Our society has changed dramatically in recent years, but this process of group discussion and learning remains as relevant to today's challenges as it was in a traditional agricultural village. In Sevalanka, we not only try to incorporate this principle into our community development programs, but also into our own organization. This is not always easy. Sevalanka's workload has increased dramatically since the tsunami, and it is easy to become caught up in the details of day-to-day work. We have had to make a special effort to take the time to sit together, share and discuss experiences, and learn from our successes, as well as our mistakes, but we see how important this process is if we hope to adapt to change and respond to local conditions.
We have seen a lot of changes in the past year? in the country, in the communities with whom we work, and within Sevalanka Foundation. Internally, we have spent the past several months responding to two challenges. First, in order to continue serving the disadvantaged communities where we were already working while simultaneously reaching out to those who were impacted by the tsunami disaster, we have had to strengthen our capacity considerably. We have had multiple organizational workshops to ensure that we maintain our core organizational principles and culture, our accountability, and our effectiveness through this period of rapid change.
Second, we have recognized that we need to complement our achievements in social mobilization with a stronger economic development component. A number of community based organizations (CBOs) that Sevalanka has been supporting have reached a level where they require specialized economic services to access credit, investment capital, technical and market information, advisory services, and marketing linkages. To meet these needs Sevalanka has formed an internal Livelihood Development Unit and has registered a separate microfinance institution, Seva Finance, and a social enterprise, Seva Enterprise Development Company (SEDCO). We feel this is an important step towards the sustainability of our development initiatives.
The organizational learning process has also helped us adapt our services to local conditions. For a small island, Sri Lanka is culturally and biologically diverse. Sevalanka staff work with farmers organizations in remote dry zone villages, women's savings groups in the upcountry tea plantations, community conservation groups around the Sinharaja rainforest, microenterprises in the densely populated South, inland and coastal fisheries cooperative societies, and thousands of families who have lost everything to the conflict or natural disaster and are now attempting to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Since there is no single blueprint development model or package of services that would apply to all of these communities, we have focused on developing a strong organizational culture, a shared set of principles and strategies, and a local staff with the capacity to respond to change and diversity.
This past cultivation season has been extremely challenging. I would like to thank everyone who joined us 'in the fields' for their cooperation, coordination and support, for sitting together and sharing their experiences. We look forward to a new season of growth.
Harsha Kumara Navaratne